Fighting discrimination in online housing ads

The Department of Housing and Urban Development and the ACLU are going after discriminatory online housing listings:

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development filed charges against social media giant Facebook on Thursday, alleging that its advertising platform violates the Fair Housing Act by allowing lenders and realtors to target Facebook users on the basis of race, gender, religion, familial status, disability, and national origin.

“Facebook is discriminating against people based upon who they are and where they live,” said HUD Secretary Ben Carson in a statement. “Using a computer to limit a person’s housing choices can be just as discriminatory as slamming a door in someone’s face.”

According to Axios, HUD and Facebook were close to a settlement. Citing anonymous sources, the Axios report says the decision to file charges could be motivated by a desire to appear on the offensive on housing discrimination prior to Carson’s meetings with lawmakers on Capitol Hill next week.

The charges are somewhat surprising as Facebook just settled five similar cases with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) last week. Under the settlement, the company agreed to create a separate advertising portal for real estate listings where advertisers’ options for targeting are limited. Facebook also settled a housing discrimination case with the state of Washington last summer.

The features that make online advertising so attractive – the ability to target particular consumers rather than addressing larger populations – do not work so well in the real estate field where housing is supposed to be available to all.

This reminds me of the conclusion of American Apartheid where the sociologists suggest the necessary rules are in place to combat housing issues but the political will is lacking. If the online realm is now indeed where a lot of housing is rented or sold, then discrimination in online listings needs to be addressed when it does occur.

Add these online occurrences to the ongoing findings of audit tests suggesting differential treatment and there is likely plenty of housing discrimination still to battle. While the 1968 Housing Act banned discrimination on the basis of “refusal to sell or rent a dwelling to any person because of his race, color, religion, or national origin,” many American communities – including the suburbs on the basis of race and class – are what they are today because of exclusion.

Advertising your business as five miles east of a wealthy suburb

Suburban businesses can use odd geographic markers to describe their own location. One building material company in the Chicago area regularly runs radio ads with this description of their location: five miles east of Oak Brook in Broadview. Why might they do it this way?

  1. Compared to Broadview, Oak Brook is a more known location.
  2. Oak Brook has a large shopping area with a mall and all sorts of restaurants and other businesses nearby. People already out shopping may be willing to drive a bit further.
  3. Oak Brook is a higher status community with more wealth. Also, Broadview is majority black and Oak Brook is majority white.
  4. They are trying to reach wealthier suburban customers. This is why they do not say they are roughly 14-15 miles from the center of the Loop.

All in all, the Broadview location is about 10 minutes east of Oak Brook. That is not a long drive for suburbanites who may be willing to drive all over the place for good deals. And the advertising strategy may have some effectiveness as the business keeps using it. Still, it strikes me as a bit odd to downplay their own location in favor of a suburb five miles away…

 

Suburb sponsors a college bowl game, gets nearly 20 mentions, 6 commercials, and a lot of visuals on the field

Elk Grove Village sponsored a college bowl game. The Daily Herald tracked how often the community was mentioned during the game broadcast:

The 3½-hour telecast included nearly 20 mentions of the formal bowl game name that uses Elk Grove’s “Makers Wanted” tagline, and six commercials promoting the business park…

11:33 a.m. The players take the field, sporting the bowl game logo on jerseys. The logo, featuring the “Makers Wanted” slogan nestled in between two palm trees, is on the 50-yard line, while separate “Makers Wanted Elk Grove Village Illinois” logos are on the 25-yard lines. Similar banners are on sidelines behind team benches. Smaller sideline signs feature “Makers Wanted” and Elk Grove-based Stern Pinball, which gave pinball machines to each team.

11:54 a.m. Elk Grove airs its first TV commercial, which it gets as part of the sponsorship deal. “Why would Elk Grove Village sponsor the Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl?” the announcer asks. “Because we’re proud,” mentioning the new technology park under development and access to transportation. The TV spot invites businesses to learn more “about how we can help your company grow at makerswanted.org.”…

2:32 p.m. Coming back from a break, ESPN shows scenes from Elk Grove’s municipal complex and park district and the watch party at Real Time Sports bar. “Good on the Makers Wanted people and all our friends watching in Elk Grove Village,” Levy says. “Need a place to set up and start a business and start a life? That’s an excellent place to go.”

Add in all the times viewers saw logos on the field and in the stadium and it sounds like the suburb received plenty of air-time.

Two related thoughts:

  1. It is interesting to see how the community tried to present itself. The whole point was to sell the business space and atmosphere of the community but that does not happen by just showing empty land and warehouses. So, if you are trying to promote a friendly community that is full of successful businesses and entrepreneurs, what else do you show? Based on the account above, they showed a party and a pinball competition hosted by a local company. Could those events happen anywhere? Would local residents recognize this as their community in terms of a pervasive local character or did it just cherry-pick a few pieces of the suburb?
  2. Imagine a future where more communities sponsor sporting events or other major events. The average American has never heard of most other suburbs. The average Chicago area resident likely knows little about Elk Grove Village outside of its location near O’Hare Airport. This could be a way for relatively small and unknown places to become more known. At the same time, such campaigns are unlikely to have major transformative effects on suburbs.

Ads showing giving a new car as a Christmas gift

Given the American love of driving and American consumerism, is it a surprise to see lots of car commercials at Christmas suggesting people are gifting others new cars?

But traditionally December means steep discounts for cars, and with annual dealership goals and sales quotas knocking, people buy cars in December for a lot of reasons. More than 17 million new cars and trucks were sold last year; 1.6 million were sold in December. Some were gifts, some necessary purchases that conveniently doubled as gifts. Said Akshay Anand, executive analyst at Kelley Blue Book: “The thing that isn’t talked about much is that the big luxury manufacturers are all competing in December to claim they were the ‘luxury brand sales leader of the year.’ ” Which is partly why Lexus, BMW and Mercedes’ Christmas ads are so frequent.

At McGrath Lexus of Chicago, “it’s our busiest time of the year,” said Heather O’Malley, the sales manager for new cars. She said McGrath sells about 120 cars each December at its dealership on Division Street. Maybe five or six are Christmas gifts. “And I have done the whole surprise car-gift thing like in the ads. A husband takes his wife to breakfast and arranges for us to leave the car in the driveway with a big red bow when they return — I love doing that.”…

Cynthia Tenhouse, general manager of product and consumer marketing for Lexus, is aware of the years of grumblings: “There is a lot of cynicism out there — this is never meant to be realistic.” The goal was aspirational (the agency that makes the commercials is Los Angeles-based Team One, which specializes in premium brands like Haagen-Dazs and Ritz-Carlton). In the 1990s, when the “December to Remember” campaign began, “we just wanted to be a part of the holiday culture without having to do just another ‘car sales event.’ ” But they do recognize “we need to be sensitive to what is happening (in the world), and so every year we make small changes because of what is happening.” This year the message is, a Lexus delivers throughout the year — it’s not just a holiday gift anymore….

He’s president of the Car Bow Store outside Philadelphia, which bills itself as the largest manufacturer of oversized car bows in the country. (Yes, there are others.) The Lexus commercials, he says, are a boom for his business. He sells 25,000 giant bows a year, most during the holiday season, to both dealerships and car buyers. “It’s staggering how many people out there are actually giving cars as Christmas gifts.” That said, he never received a car as a gift, “and I don’t know anyone who ever has.”

The formula: people want to buy new cars at the end of the year because of discounts/new models available + lots of spending at Christmas + dealers and manufacturers looking to do well at the end of the year = opportunity to push big-ticket items like cars through advertisements.

While these ads may seem more obvious at Christmas, car commercials are all over the place at other times of the year too. I can’t think of a similar big-ticket item that receives so much ad space. Houses cost a lot more – and it is hard to sell individualized homes through a mass commercial. Smartphones are all over the ads too but even the most expensive models available to the public come nowhere near the price of a new car. All of those car commercials viewed over a lifetime must have some effect, even if it simply reinforces that cars in the abstract are desirable and we need them in society.

I would be interested to know what the effect of giving a new car as a gift is in the long run. It is a large item. It is a necessary item for many people in order to get to work and other places. Because a new car is both expensive yet necessary, does it feel like a gift longer or does it become mundane just as quickly because it is used regularly?

 

McMansion ad campaign aimed at McDonald’s

Burger King has a new advertising campaign that shows off one particular feature of the purported McMansion backyards of McDonald’s executives:

Each of the company’s newest print ads, designed by an agency called DAVID Miami, claims to show what was once the lavish backyard of a real McDonald’s executive, the kicker being that each yard also appears to contain a grill.

“Flame grilling is hard to resist,” read the words printed over each grilling apparatus, the suggestion being that McDonald’s executives themselves preferred a flame-grilled patty…

AdAge reports that some of the photos were taken from real estate listings, meaning these particular grills may not have necessarily belonged to the “retired McDonald’s director” or “retired McDonald’s president” who may have used those backyards.

The primary emphasis is on the grill, a staple of many an American backyard. American homes and summer has long been associated with a male homeowner taking raw meat to the backyard and cooking it on the grill as the family plays and gathers around.

Of course, these are not just any grills or any homes. The news story includes three ad images. The grills look rather long – so they likely have more than four burners – and they have a stainless steel exterior. (In one image, there appears to be a Green Egg next to the stainless steel grill.) Given that these are grills supposedly owned by executives plus they are located at large homes, these are likely expensive grills.

Beyond tying McDonald’s executives to expensive grills, this also connects them to undesirable homes: McMansions. While the purpose of the ads is the grills, these grills are in front of expensive and large homes. But, they are not just mansions – they are McMansions. I’m not sure if there is a larger message here or not: should McDonald’s feel shame about having derided homes named after their restaurants (the Mc- prefix)? (Compared to the fast food of Burger King, this seems like a better pitch for places like Five Guys or Smashburger that would claim to have a more premium burger.) Does this suggest their executives have bad taste? Does this mean Burger King executives have nicer homes?

 

Experimenting with shorter TV commercials

Shorter commercials are on the rise:

Commercials of non-traditional lengths have been increasing. Almost 6% of all commercials aren’t 10-, 15-, 30-, or 60-seconds long during the first half of 2017, according to Nielsen’s 2017 Commercial & Advertising Update…

On TV, Fox debuted the first six-second ads earlier this year at the Teen Choice Awards for reportedly $75,000 each. Online, social giants like Facebook and Snapchat are commissioning research that touts the effectiveness of ads in the first two seconds.

I am trying to think of whether long commercials – whether in the 30 second format or 60 second format – hold my attention more than a series of 6 second commercials could. Not a whole lot can be communicated in six seconds but perhaps the mind is fresher when it is consistently seeing new pitches. Now, imagine a 2 minute commercial break broken into at least 8 commercials of 15 seconds. Or, a shorter break of 1 minute split into 10 six second commercials. The contrasts could get pretty interesting.

The same LA bridges in many car commercials

One interesting set of locations is fairly common in car commercials: bridges in Los Angeles. This is not what you might expect: how many people know that bridges are even necessary in Los Angeles? (The Los Angeles River does exist.) This has a long history: a 2004 New York Times story suggests the presence of production companies in southern California plus good weather leads to many shoots in Los Angeles.

One of the past bridge locations was the Sixth Street Viaduct which closed in 2016:

According to Film L.A., the organization that helps the film industry book municipal locations, over 80 movies, television shows, music videos, and commercials are shot on or underneath the Sixth Street Viaduct each year. That’s partially because of the bridge’s swooping metal arches, perched on an art-deco concrete platform; and partially because of the river underneath and that access tunnel: if you want to film something set in Los Angeles that makes reference to the city’s automotive culture, or if you’re just looking for a place to shoot a car chase that’s cheaper and more available than a clogged freeway, the channelized, concretized bed of the Los Angeles River is your best choice.

Except that the bridge officially no longer functions that way, as of last week. It’s going away completely. And the river? It’s on its way to becoming a river again.

Here is a short montage of the bridge being taken down alongside iconic images from films.

The Fourth Street Bridge is also home to a number of shoots and features Art Deco columns as well as views of the downtown skyline. Here is a Google Street View image:

FourthStreetLosAngeles

Are viewers of car commercials more likely to purchase a vehicle if it is shown in Los Angeles compared to other settings? Los Angeles has its own aesthetic which may or may not match with many other places. (In urban sociology, Los Angeles is often held up as the prime example of decentralization. Yet, it also does have a downtown as well as numerous other scenic sites such as the hills behind the city.) In the Chicago television market, we see some car commercials shot in Chicago. Might this help viewers envision themselves driving a new car when they see it in a familiar location? It would be more difficult to do this for all of the metropolitan markets in the United States.

Here are some other common car commercial locations with several more in the Los Angeles area.